IRVING, Texas (AP) -- Regardless of whether Ron Dayne ever
outruns his reputation as an underachiever, he'll always be able to
look back fondly at Thanksgiving 2005.
Filling in for injured Tatum Bell, Dayne rumbled 55 yards on the
second play of overtime and Jason Elam followed with a 24-yard
field goal to give the Denver Broncos a 24-21 victory over the
Dallas Cowboys on Thursday in the kind of tight, tense game
expected in a clash between first-place teams.
Bell was a surprise scratch because of a bruised chest, and
Dayne didn't even know he'd be in the lineup until Thursday. He
responded with 98 yards rushing, his most since Sept. 30, 2001, and
scored his first touchdown since the 2004 opener, when the 1999
Heisman Trophy winner was still with the New York Giants.
"The coaching staff gave me a chance and they believed in me,"
Dayne said. "I was glad I got this opportunity to show Coach that
I wasn't a bust."
The game was close for more than four quarters, with the margin
never wider than a touchdown. Both defenses came up with big plays
and each team downed a punt inside the 2. There was a close call by
the officials, and the Cowboys (7-4) missed a 34-yard field goal
that would've put them ahead midway through the fourth quarter.
Denver (9-2) never trailed in winning its fourth straight, but
the Broncos were hardly in control. Their running game struggled
until Dayne's big burst and Jake Plummer threw his first
interception since Week 2. Still, they improved to 3-2 on the road
to maintain hopes of catching unbeaten Indianapolis for home-field
advantage in the AFC playoffs.
"I guess we're living right," said cornerback Champ Bailey,
who returned an interception 65 yards for Denver's first touchdown.
"Everything worked out tonight. ... We have something special
Dallas ended a three-game winning streak and, like all its other
losses, this one was decided late. The Cowboys' losses are by a
combined 13 points, with the last two coming on game-ending field
goals. This one gives the Giants a chance to take over first place
in the NFC East on Sunday, before facing Dallas the following
"I'm disappointed with the outcome, I'm not disappointed with
the effort," Cowboys coach Bill Parcells said. "I thought we
played pretty solid on defense, until that last run."
Dayne joined the Broncos this offseason for the minimum salary
in hopes of reviving his career in an offense that consistently
features one of the NFL's best rushing attacks. The Broncos were so
underwhelmed that they drafted Maurice Clarett in the third round.
Dayne was active only five of the first 10 games. He came into
this game without a carry since Oct. 2 and a season total of 53
"I never lost confidence in my ability," he said. "I knew I
could play if I found the right situation and the right
He began showing it with a season-best run of 14 yards on his
first carry. Then came a 16-yard touchdown run in the third
Dayne and Mike Anderson were alternating series, and it was
Dayne's turn when the Broncos won the overtime coin toss. After
opening with a pass, Plummer handed off to Dayne on second-and-3
from the 39.
He bowled through the left side of the line, pulled away from
would-be tackler Keith Davis around the 50 and kept going until he
was dragged down from behind by Terence Newman at the 6. The speedy
Newman actually got to Dayne at the 10 but, carrying 245 pounds and
a full head of steam, Dayne took a while to go down.
Denver called timeout, then went straight to Elam. The kick was
perfect and the Broncos let out a huge sigh of relief.
"Being able to help the team win is all I can ask for," Dayne
said. "I haven't been upset about not playing. I just wanted to
show the stuff I have. It was a lot of fun."
The Cowboys limited Denver to 89 yards rushing in regulation,
about half its average. The Broncos weren't much better throwing
the ball, with a long of only 24 yards. Before Dayne's big play,
they'd converted only one first down since going ahead 21-14.
Plummer was 15-of-24 for 162 yards, with a touchdown pass to Rod
Smith. His franchise-record streak of passes without an
interception ended at 229 when Newman picked him off in the second
Drew Bledsoe was 29-of-44 for 232 yards for Dallas, with two
touchdowns and two interceptions.
Bledsoe tied it at 7 with a 20-yard touchdown pass to Keyshawn
Johnson, at 14 with a 1-yard plunge on fourth down and at 21 with a
4-yard touchdown pass to Jason Witten.
Dallas' last two scores came off Denver turnovers, including a
close one by Anderson at the start of the fourth quarter. Officials
ruled that Newman scooped it up at the 10 before rolling out of
bounds, but it was hard to tell. The Broncos couldn't challenge
because they'd used them up questioning spots of the ball in the
first half.Game notes
Bell, who grew up in a Dallas suburb, was listed as
questionable all week and had said he wanted to play. His average
of 6.0 yards per carry is the best in the NFL. ... Witten tied his
career high with nine catches and had 82 yards. ... Bailey's
interception was his sixth of the year, tying for the league lead.
It was the second he's returned for a touchdown. The INTs and TDs
are career bests.
- Gerald Austin